According to a report by the Health Policy Institute¹, approximately 65 million Americans have experienced a recent episode of back pain. In fact, lower back pain is a major cause of missed work, leading to some 83 million sick days annually.
Lower back pain when standing or walking can affect your quality of life and prevent you from enjoying regular, day-to-day activities. By understanding the cause of the pain, you can avoid painful activities or movements and implement better ways of reducing the pain.
In this article, you'll learn more about the potential causes, preventative measures, and remedies for lower back pain when standing or walking, as well as when it’s time to see a doctor.
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The symptoms associated with lower back pain can range from just a mere muscle pain to a burning and stabbing sensation. Moreover, the pain can radiate downwards to your leg or worsen during simple movements like walking, standing, twisting, or bending.
Your lower back is made up of vertebral bones that offer support in an upright position. These bones have a jelly-filled disk in between them to provide stability and cushioning. Facet joints are found on each side of these backbones, and they allow your back to be more flexible when you bend or twist. If the facet joints or discs become inflamed, you will feel pain in the lower back. Simple muscle fatigue, a sprain, or a strain can lead to this pain.
Other causes of lower back pain when standing include:
Herniated disk: The gel-like disk that cushions your spine’s vertebrae may bulge or rupture, causing intense pain due to the pressure exerted on the spinal nerve root.
Sciatica: Pressure exerted on the sciatic nerve leads to pain in the buttocks, legs, and hips.
Spinal stenosis: When the space around your spinal cord narrows, there is more pressure on your spinal nerves, which causes pain.
In other cases, bad habits can also contribute to lower back pain when standing. Some of these habits are part of your daily routine, so you might not know that they are causing pain. These habits include:
Having poor posture. For instance, slouching can affect weight distribution in your body.
Sleeping on an unsupportive or old mattress.
Lack of regular exercise or doing the wrong kind of activities.
Weight-lifting or lifting heavy objects.
Not wearing supportive shoes or orthotics when necessary.
You can easily make behavioral changes, such as sitting up straight, but you will need sound advice from a professional to make potentially more impactful changes. For instance, a doctor can advise on the best type of mattress to purchase for better back support.
With age, your facet joints and disks start to wear out. As a result, there is a high probability you will experience lower back pain when standing for long periods, even when just performing everyday activities.
While standing, the spine's curvature may increase contact between your facet joints, which may lead to lower back pain because it worsens any inflammation already in these joints.
Your spine acts as the central support column for your body and is flexible enough to allow a wide range of movements. However, some actions can be more stressful on your spine than others, leading to significant strain.
Your sleeping position can also significantly add to the lower back pain you might feel when walking. Your spine is quite flexible, but if you sleep in the wrong position, your joints can twist or freeze unnaturally. So, if you tend to experience severe lower back pain, especially after waking up, it may be due to the way you’re sleeping.
Your overall health is also a significant factor in how well your lower back can support the pressure of day-to-day activities. Some health conditions such as diabetes and osteoporosis can significantly affect your spine. Additionally, since your spine acts as the primary pathway to your nervous system, you feel pain around your back more than in other body parts. Discomfort or pain in your spine can lead to a range of other problems throughout your body.
If you experience lower back pain when standing or walking, several things can help improve the problem.
Get better footwear
Low arches and flat feet can lead to lower back pain when walking. Although this condition isn't debilitating, it causes misalignment in your ligaments, bones, and muscles. This leads to more contractions and stretching of your lower back and a greater chance of spraining or straining your back muscles.
A health expert can recommend orthotics, which are custom-made molds inserted into your shoes to help you walk naturally. And since your feet usually compensate for the type of shoes you’re wearing, there will be an automatic adjustment in walking posture. Your body will correct misalignments within your spine and shift your body weight away from the lower back.
Orthotics are easy to integrate into your lifestyle, making them a viable option to help reduce chronic back pain while walking. In fact, a study by the National Library of Medicine showed that orthotics significantly improve lower back pain².
Although orthotics may take some time to eliminate lower back pain, they can provide a lot of pain relief in the short term when worn consistently. Keep in mind that you should only buy orthotics after getting the OK from your doctor since the wrong orthotic can worsen your lower back pain when walking.
Practice good walking posture
The way you walk can also lead to lower back pain. Keep your spine aligned with your body while moving to ensure walking isn’t causing you any pain. A straight spine ensures your body is distributing your weight evenly with each step and isn’t relying on one part of the back or body to do most of the work.
Some tips that can help you achieve these results include:
Put your head up to reduce the strain on your neck
Practice proper footwork
Avoid rolling your hips while walking
Push from the rear leg
Since you put a lot of weight on your feet while walking, the impact of your steps affects your lower back. These tips can help you improve your walking posture, reducing stress on your calves, foot muscles, and lower legs. Once your body adjusts to a better posture, chronic and acute back pain should begin to lessen.
If the pain in your lower back has made you avoid exercise or physical activity for a long time, you can strengthen your muscles through a rehabilitation program. You can also get help from a physical therapist at home, who can guide you through low–impact cardio, stretches, and strength exercises. This way, you can improve your fitness without putting too much strain on your back, and return to your usual activities sooner.
Massage therapy³ is another effective method in treating lower back pain, especially when combined with stretches and exercises. Doing all three results in less short-term and long-term pain, and improves movement.
Yoga is one of the most beneficial exercises in alleviating lower back pain. In one study, individuals who took yoga classes for 12 weeks⁴ experienced less back pain. An expert yoga instructor is necessary so that you don’t hurt yourself, and the benefits of yoga can last for several months.
In most cases, lower back pain when standing or walking isn’t cause to worry. In fact, home remedies such as hot and cold therapy, gentle stretching, and over-the-counter pain relievers are often effective in treating this pain.
However, you should see a doctor if the pain doesn't get better in about a week or two, causes numbness, weakness, or tingling in your legs; or occurs along with other debilitating symptoms, see a doctor. A doctor will identify the possible reason for your lower back pain and recommend the appropriate treatment.
Exercising and stretching
Exercises such as low-impact cardio can be very helpful in preventing lower back pain, and swimming and walking are excellent options. These exercises help increase endurance and strength in your lower back so that your muscles can function better. Ask a health expert for exercise recommendations, since back problems may prevent you from doing certain exercises.
Maintain a healthy weight
Excess weight strains the joints in your body and puts more pressure on your back muscles, even when doing simple tasks like turning around. This can lead to severe lower back pain when walking or standing, as well as pain in the knees and ankles, which can seriously affect your quality of life.
Mind your posture
Maintaining good posture goes a long way towards preventing pain in your lower back. Make sure you stand up straight, walk upright, and avoid dropping your shoulders when walking or standing.
Adjust your workstation
If you have adopted the habit of slouching at your desk, your chances of lower back pain will be a lot higher. Ensure you have an ergonomic assessment completed and if needed, get a height-adjustable workstation and a rubber mat to stand on.
Some factors can put you at a greater risk of developing lower back pain. These risk factors include:
If you smoke, you increase the risk of lower back pain, and the more cigarettes you smoke per day, the higher the risk. Smoking prompts you to cough more frequently, leading to herniated disks. Also, smoking increases the risk of osteoporosis and decreases blood flow to your spine.
Lower back pain when standing or walking is common as you get older. Individuals aged 35 and above are more likely to experience this problem.
Some diseases, such as certain types of cancer and arthritis, can increase the risk of back pain.
If you use your back instead of your legs to lift heavy weights, you’ll be more likely to develop lower back pain when walking or standing.
Lack of exercise
If you don't engage in any exercise, you will have weaker muscles in your back and abdomen, increasing your chances of developing back pain.
Lower back pain when walking or standing can be caused by a range of problems, including poor posture, excess body weight, poor sleeping positions, and a lack of exercise. You can treat back pain at home with over-the-counter pain medication, physical therapy, and massage therapy. However, if the pain is persistent and you experience other symptoms with lower back pain, you should see a doctor to diagnose the issue and deliver treatment.
Chronic back pain | Health policy institute